The SummerWorks Performance Festival is Canada’s largest curated performance festival, featuring fifty-two theatre, dance, music, live art, and interdisciplinary projects. I’ve chosen twelve that I’m especially looking forward to seeing. These suggestions (in alphabetical order) are solely based on the show descriptions listed on the SummerWorks website and on the artists involved.
As always, this is a completely subjective exercise, so my inclination is towards artists whose work I know or have heard of. I do have a tendency towards theatre projects, though I have consciously chosen from across the spectrum here. I haven’t suggested any of the shows that are still in a workshop stage or that play only once or twice. But I really encourage you to read over the whole SummerWorks program and see whatever strikes your fancy, appeals to your sensibility, or whets your curiosity. There will certainly be a lot of great work happening at this festival. Happy SummerWorks!
1 – THE CHEMICAL VALLEY PROJECT and PERFECTION (double bill)
The Chemical Valley Project created by Julia Howman and Kevin Matthew Wong; Dramaturgy by Vanessa Gray and Lindsay Gray / Perfection created and written by Mark Correia; Performed by Mark Correia, Jason D’Souza, and Erik Berg.
This is an intriguing double bill, and I’m curious about what drew the SummerWorks curators to put these two seemingly disparate pieces together. In The Chemical Valley Project, we are taken to Aamjiwnaang, an Indigenous community of 800 residents who are smothered by the Canadian petrochemical industry. With the help of sisters Vanessa and Lindsay Gray, who have dedicated themselves to fighting environmental racism and protecting their community’s land and water, theatre-makers Kevin and Julia document and explore Canada’s ongoing relationship with energy infrastructure, its colonial past and present, and Indigenous solidarity and reconciliation. In Perfection, world record-holding magician, comedian, and all-around entertainer Mark exists only to impress you. Completely devoted to performing the perfect show for every audience, his dedication knows no bounds. But how far is too far?
2 – DIVINE
Written by Natalie Frijia; Directed by Claire Burns; Dramaturgy by Emma Mackenzie Hillier; Performed by Amanda Cordner, Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Christina Bryson, Sarah Naomi Campbell, Haley Garnett, and Rehaset Tha, with Annie Yao, Sabah Haque, Kathleen O’Reilly, and Khadijah Salawutang.
An incredible group of very talented women are involved in this production, both on and off stage. In the post-apocalyptic Wild West of Ontario, where water has run out, a pair of bandits search for their last hope—a water diviner by the name of Penn. Stories say she can crack the world like a coconut and make water bubble to the surface with nothing but her hands. But the bandits aren’t the only ones hunting her down. And what if there’s nothing left for Penn to divine? How we would survive in world without water. Would we turn to community… or to revenge?
Concept and direction by Daniele Bartolini; Co-created with and performed by Rory de Brouwer, Danya Buonastella, and Joslyn Rogers.
From the creators of previous SummerWorks hit The Stranger, this is a new interactive experience divided into two episodes, starting from your own home and entering a parallel universe. In Episode 1, you will receive a mysterious call at night time. It will connect you to four strangers. Guided by an enigmatic voice, you are invited to speak about your dreams and reveal your life story. In Episode 2, the next night, you will enter the invisible city and be transported through a collective dream in which you play the role of the main character. There’s very limited audience capacity for this one, so if this type of personal immersive journey interests you at all, book it NOW.
4 – THE NAILS
Written by Jason Maghanoy; Directed by Tanya Rintoul; Performed by Jeysa Caridad, Jake Runeckles, Alexander Thomas, William Ellis, and Ellie Ellwand.
Ally and Josh spend every summer with their father as he goes from small town to small town working for an American construction company. But this summer is different. This summer they grow up. This is the summer that everything changes. I’ve enjoyed much of Jason Maghanoy’s writing in the past, and National Theatre School Directing graduate Tanya Rintoul is one to watch, so I’m looking forward her direction of this play about family and faith. It’s about a world of freedom and extremism in all directions; where love and cruelty exist within the same space, and sometimes feel like the same thing.
Written by David Bernstein and Jake Vanderham; Directed by David Bernstein; Choreographed by Alyssa Martin; Performed by Cynthia Ashperger, David Bernstein, Stephanie Cozzette, Kaleigh Gorka, Brendan Flynn, Teresa Labriola, and Jake Vanderham.
Well-known fact about me: I love musicals. Less well-known fact about me: I also love country music. So the description for this show totally got me. “Garth Brooks is sad. His divorce is final, his album is not. With the help of his famous friends, Garth tries to make himself disappear. But nobody is prepared for who replaces him.” This show is apparently inspired by The Life of Chris Gaines, a Garth Brooks album released under the name of a fictional musician named Chris Gaines that was part of an elaborate backstory for a film about “Gaines” that was never actually made. I’m fascinated to see what performance artist David Bernstein and writer-performer Jake Vanderham conjure up here. And apparently the show also features a live bluegrass band, so there’s that!
Project Design by Jivesh Parasram; Co-Created and performed by Jivesh Parasram, Tom Arthur Davis, and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard.
There’s less information about this show than any other that I’m recommending. But it’s still on my list because Pandemic Theatre has produced consistently strong work the last few years, and each of the artists involved deserves attention. “I know you’ll stand in solidarity with me, but how close are you willing to stand?” Described as part lecture, part meditation, and part threat, it takes a raw look at where our similarities begin and where they end. Each night a different performer straps themselves into an extreme situation – forcing the audience to ask – what would you die for?
Written by Bobby Del Rio; Directed by Rouvan Silogix; Performed by Bobby Del Rio, Rico Garcia, Chantel McDonald, and Dave Sparrow.
This play by Bobby Del Rio has actually been around for almost ten years. I enjoyed reading it when it was published in the Summer 2009 issue of Canadian Theatre Review, but I’ve never seen a professional production. It’s a comedic political satire about the awkward way multiculturalism is implemented in Canadian theatre, as an actor is offered a chance at stardom if he is willing to play up a stereotype he does not identify with. I don’t know about “stardom,” but I do know that many diverse performers are faced with decisions about stereotypical and less desirable roles all the time. I’m looking forward to seeing how the situation is treated here, to the strong cast, and to whether there have been notable changes in the years since the play was first written.
8 – REALITY THEATRE
Written by Julia Lederer; Directed by Rebecca Applebaum; Performed by Akosua Amo-Adem, Krista Morin, and Andy Trithardt.
Reality and fantasy blur for a woman playing a spoon in Beauty and the Beast. A man reconsiders a contract signed in blood. The World Wide Web just disappears into thin air. These are the premises for Reality Theatre, a fast moving collection of short, interwoven plays that explore our anxieties about change, the acceleration of technology and maintaining human relationships in a world quickly becoming less human. Julia Lederer has a wonderfully quirky voice as a writer, and I’m looking forward to Rebecca Applebaum’s directorial debut. She has certainly stacked the odds in her favour with a strong three-part cast.
9 – ROOTLESS
Playwright and Puppet Collaboration by Tijiki Morris; Directed by Ximena Huizi; Performed by Alexandra Barberena, Bilal Baig, Saba Akhtar, and Phoebe Hu.
Drawing on inspiration from her childhood in Pakistan, writer Morris honours the experience of migration through magic realism and mythic fairy tale. Rootless aims to share the rich imagination of cultural experiences and the cycle of displacement beyond the western world. Using a blend of physical theatre, shadow puppetry, and projections, it traces the path of a young woman cut off from the land she loves. Stricken by grief and an outsider in her new home, she travels through a world of dreams, meets a djin, talks to animals and visits a mermaid in the desert. I look forward to seeing the different forms of theatre come together to tell this fantastical story.
10 – SERENITY WILD
Written by Katie Sly; Directed by Audrey Dwyer; Fight Direction and Intimacy Coaching by Siobhan Richardson; Performed by Terra Hazelton, En Lai Mah, Patricia Marceau, Julia Matias, Dainty Smith, and Chy Ryan Spain.
Serenity Wild won the 2016 Wildfire National Playwriting Competition for Canadian playwrights 30 years of age or younger, which sought fresh young scripts that embraced risk, grit and evocation. Amy has a hard time feeling present, while her loving boyfriend Liam will do whatever he can to wake her up, whether she’s ready for it or not. Tenderness turns into teasing turns into BDSM, and Amy’s boundaries around safety and danger become blurred. At what point does Liam’s concern become coercion? Can Amy trust Liam’s good intentions, or is presence a place she needs to find on her own?
11 – SPAWN
Written by Cheyenne Scott; Directed by Gein Wong; Performed by Samantha Brown, Dillan Meighan-Chiblow, Herbie Barnes, and Cathy Elliott.
In this piece, playwright Scott offers an Indigenous, multimedia family drama about the struggle to reconnect to family, culture, community, and land. Theresa is haunted by the traditional Coast Salish story of the Salmon Spirit, and the death of her mother who drowned in the Pacific Ocean. Now that she’s pregnant, her disconnected family must prepare for a new generation. The play was produced earlier this year at Vancouver’s rEvolver Festival, and premieres in Toronto with a new director and a strong cast entirely different from the previous production.
12 – WHAT LINDA SAID
Written by Priscila Uppal; Directed by Gein Wong; Dramaturgy by Iris Turcott and Matt McGeachy; Starring Tracey Hoyt and Kimwun Perehinec.
Linda Griffiths was an iconic Canadian playwright and actress. Priscila Uppal is a poet. When Linda was fighting breast cancer, Priscila was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer called synovial sarcoma. During Priscila’s surgery, Linda passed away. But here the two meet again, in an imagined space where the living and the dead passionately, poetically, and comically explore how cancer has affected each of their lives, friendships, art, and futures. With Tracey Hoyt as Linda and Kimwun Perehinec as Priscila, this should be a humorous, inspiring and personal play about two vibrant female artists and coping with cancer.
The SummerWorks Performing Arts Festival is on from August 3 – 13 at venues across Toronto.Click here for tickets or more information